Poll: Public agrees with court on cellphone searches

The public is largely supportive of the Supreme Court’s 9-0 ruling last month ordering police to obtain a warrant before searching a suspect’s cellphone, according to a new poll.

The survey commissioned by Microsoft showed that 83 percent of American voters agreed with the court’s conclusion, and 86 percent said that information stored in the cloud should have the same legal protections as personal papers. 

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Additionally, 56 percent of respondents said they were worried that if the U.S. demands information from tech companies held abroad, other countries could follow suit and demand personal information about Americans.

The last bit is good news for Microsoft, which has been fighting the government over whether it has to hand over information about users stored abroad.

“We think it’s a problem for governments to use a warrant to reach across international borders and search a person’s email without respecting local privacy laws,” Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith said in a blog post on Wednesday. “And we are not alone.”

The survey’s findings could also indicate support for overhauling the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, a 1986 law that allows government agents to obtain people's emails without a warrant as long as they are more than 180 days old.

Microsoft has called for an update, and 228 House lawmakers have co-sponsored legislation to do just that. So far, however, the bill has not moved through in Congress.

Smith said that officials at the White House and in Congress need to follow the public’s lead.

“As all of this suggests, the American public understands what’s at stake for technology and the future of privacy,” he wrote. “Now we need to hope that government officials will pay attention to this digital common sense.”

The survey was conducted by the research firm Anzalone Liszt Grove on July 7 and 8.